California Labor Law: Employee Rights

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California labor laws delineate the rights of employees and employers, including the right of employees to be protected from dismissal simply for reporting an unsafe or unhealthy workplace condition. Although employers also have rights, such as the ability to establish certain workplace rules and requirements, they cannot unilaterally impose conditions on, or require compliance from, their employees in violation of legal constraints. California employee rights and responsibilities cover a lot of territory, including wages, meal breaks and protection from discrimination.

Employee Rights Acts in California

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces state employee rights laws to protect workers against public and private employers, employment agencies and labor organizations. The DFEH covers workers in certain protected categories, which means it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate based on:

  • Age (40 and above).
  • Ancestry, national origin.
  • Disability, mental and physical.
  • Gender identity, gender expression.
  • Genetic information.
  • Marital status.
  • Medical condition.
  • Military and veteran status.
  • Race, color.
  • Religion, creed.
  • Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions).
  • Sexual orientation.

    Read More: Employee Basic Rights

Protected California Employee Business Practices

Workers in California have rights that protect them even before they’re hired for a job. These rights extend beyond actual working conditions and compensation to include all business practices by an employer, including:

  • Advertisements.
  • Applications, screening and interviewing.
  • Hiring, transferring, promoting, terminating or separating employees.
  • Participation in training or apprenticeship programs, employee organizations or unions.

Employee Rights Acts in California

Two employee rights acts are among California’s labor laws: the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Although the FEHA casts a broader net for all workers, the CFRA addresses job-protected leave specifically for families.

FEHA (California Government Code, Title 2, Division 3, Part 2.8): This legislation prohibits, among other things, harassment in the workplace, regardless of a company’s size. Employee protection under this code section extends to employees, applicants, contractors, and unpaid volunteers or interns.

CFRA (California Government Code, Section 12945): This code section mandates that employers with 50 or more employees must provide their employees with job-protected leave for the birth of a child or for placement of a child in the employee’s home for foster care or adoption. This law also allows job-protected leave for serious health conditions of employees and their children, spouses and parents.

5 Rights of Workers

Regardless of country of birth origin or legal status, all California workers have job rights that are protected by labor laws. Among other mandated benefits, these five rights of workers form a basic foundation for employment:

  1. Minimum wage and overtime pay. As of January 1, 2019, the California minimum wage is $12 per hour for companies with 26 or more workers and $11 per hour for companies with 25 or fewer employees. Depending on the type of occupation and numbers of hours worked per week or per day, employees are entitled to compensation at 1.5 to two times their regular rate of pay.
  2. Rest and meal breaks. Employees must provide a paid 10-minute rest break for each four hours of work and a meal break of at least 30 minutes after at least five hours of work.
  3. Safe and healthy jobs. To maintain a safe workplace, employers must adhere to a list of safety and health rules, including having a written health and safety plan (also called an Injury and Illness Prevention Program), carrying workers’ compensation insurance and following Cal/OSHA regulations to protect employees from certain job hazards.
  4. Taking action without fear of punishment. Employees have the right to report injuries, file claims and ask for wages that an employer owes them without fear of reprisal. Employers cannot fire an employee, send him home, give him harder or less desirable tasks or work schedules, threaten deportation, or prevent him from getting another job.
  5. Receiving benefits for injury or unemployment. Employees are entitled to receive benefits because of injury or unemployment. Employers must pay for medical care if an employee’s injury or illness occurs as part of her job. Workers’ compensation is available to all workers, regardless of their immigration status.

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